bettie and roads less traveled

by Art Chantry (

we all see bettie page as one of those amazing period icons of female loveliness. her pinups are considered the very best of her era. at first, virtually unknown, she did her shots and then vanished from the popular culture as mysteriously as she emerged. over time, through the cult of admirers around the photos, we learned her name, “bettie page” – as charming and sweet as her image. as time went on and the definitions of ‘pornography’ changed, her images are no longer even thought of as ‘dirty’, but slightly ‘naughty.’ even her SM material pops up in popular fashion – free for the kiddies to see. her influence on underground fashion is enormous. her haircut, her figure, her pose, her SMILE – all of it has become a virtual cliche of hotrod/rockabilly/hipster culture. she’s probably iconicly on more record covers and tattoos posters and than any other person who ever lived. always looking like she’s having the most wonderful fun in the world. looking at bettie page’s photos is like looking at a cartoon of betty boop. a sense of unreality takes over and she becomes not a real person any more. that SMILE!

JMR:I think Bettie was touched by the "innocent" adoration of contemporary (to us that is) fans, like comic artist (the late) Dave Stevens—creator of The Rocketeer, who based his hero's girlfriend on Page—and others in that mode, who were compiling fanzines in the '90s. It helped her to reconcile her past with her actual life. She didn't need to be ashamed.

the reality of bettie page’s life isn’t what she projected. she, in fact, actually fits the cliched stereotype of the damaged abused woman who became victimized to the point of breakdown and collapse. i know it’s hard to accept, looking at those images. but, she wasn’t happy at all. as time went on, it took an enormous toll. there’s a good reason she hid herself from view for the entirely of her life after those photos. when she was eventually found by fans, she wouldn’t allow any photos taken of her. she claimed we wanted people to remember as she WAS, not as she IS. now, that is a very sad thing to say. it’s called “obliteration.”

as i remember her story (i’m sure you fan[atics] out there will correct every thing i write. and i welcome it) she did those photos to make extra money to help support a bum of a boyfriend (husband?) who basically lived off her. he arranged the shoots and ‘managed her’. he was basically acting as a lightweight pimp. however as far as we know, she never took that step over the line into actually sexual activities. though she claims she never did full nudity, i’ve seen photos from ‘private’ session (where photography clubs would rent her for an hour to pose exclusively for them) where she is totally frontally bared showing every detail of her anatomy (still smiling, too.) so, the work bothered her to the point of lying about it. so, who knows what really happened?

eventually, she lost her ‘man.’ and she went into a personal crisis. she had become dependent on the money she got from the shoots. she went into a period of self- examination and turned to religion as her solution to her crisis. she quit doing the ‘modeling’ and dove into the evangelical world. she even worked with the billy graham crusade for nearly a decade as a ticket taker. she gained some weight to cover her sexuality (i conjecture, there). but that haircut took a long time to disappear from her head and that magnificent smile never left (of course.)

this mugshot was taken in 1972 in florida. what lead to the arrest was a psychotic breakdown. she was living in a ‘mother-in-law’ apartment behind her landlord’s house and started cracking. when the landlord (also her friend) checked in on her to see if she was ok, bettie stabbed her with a fork (not fatally, i seem to remember.) after her hearing, she voluntarily committed herself to a mental hospital where she stayed for a number of years. after she came out, she went into seclusion, where she stayed the rest of her life (as i understand it). lord knows what they did to her that ‘hospital.’

so, now, whenever i look at the amazing figure and that stunning smile, all that loveliness and feminine beauty, i cringe. once i read about her REAL experience, i can’t look at her and not see the awful road she really traveled. was her collapse due to the emotional conflict of her ‘modeling’ career? i doubt it. but it sure didn’t help any. at any rate, i find myself turning away when her image appears. i actually feel ashamed to ogle her now.


AC:well, she went through extreme religious fanaticism, which i don’t think she ever really overcame. she never really did totally approve of the modeling in the beginning. but, she was a natural born professional at it. after all she was a classic corn-fed midwest gal – just read her face. she took WORK seriously. even before her conversion, she was doubting her life (see bunny yeager’s interviews where she talks about shooting bettie. also the guy who did that final session with the scuba gear – he had some interesting things to say about her). the bottom line was she had severe misgivings about her modeling career and maintained conflicting views about it. she didn’t really approve of it, but approved of her professional craftsmanship. sorta like what us graphic designers deal with, ya know? …

…i just wondered what the criminal justice system was like down there. execute

ot of folks i hear…. and remember she “voluntarily” committed herself.

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